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NBCU in play in 2009?

Written By mista sense on Wednesday, March 26, 2008 | 1:02 PM

Diane Mermigas conjectures, you decide:

General Electric Chairman Jeff Immelt emphatically denies plans to sell NBC Universal, pointing to cable network and international growth as offsets to its fourth-place broadcast TV network and its increasing vulnerability during the ad recession. But 2009 could tell another tale.
[emphasis added]

The Cable Gamer has been saying this since last summer--long before the typhoon of bad coverage that is about to befall NBCU because of the Tibet Olympics.

Here's Sally Jenkins in The Washington Post, ripping into the corporate sponsors of the 2008 games, most of all, the biggest underwriter, NBCU. Here's Jenkins:

One company has a greater interest in the Beijing Olympics than any other. General Electric is both an Olympics sponsor and the parent company of NBC, the network that paid a combined $2.3 billion for the rights to the Athens, Turin and Beijing Olympics -- only to be told it can't broadcast live from Tiananmen Square. As the Games approach, the Chinese authorities appear increasingly nervous at the prospect of any form of public expression. Even an aside of "Free Tibet" by the singer Bjork during a concert drew a stiff response. When an group of American Boy Scouts were supposed to appear at an exhibition baseball game March 15, they were prevented taking the field by police, who also canceled any form of on-field entertainment, including the singing of the national anthems.

"We're proud to be a sponsor and our plans aren't changing," GE spokeswoman Deirdre Latour said. "Our position overall is that the Olympics are a force for good. Of course, we're watching all of the issues carefully."

The attitude of GE is that once the Games begin, the feel-good moments will take over and everyone will forget about the rifle butts and jail cells. "When you're sitting in that stadium and all the countries walk in, you'll see the power of bringing everyone together," Latour said.

That's obviously what the Chinese government hopes, too -- and intends to enforce by censoring NBC.

Will NBC accept the censorship? Latour said, "That's a question for the IOC." GE's role, she says, is merely to fund the Games. "The role of a sponsor isn't take up cause X, Y and Z," she said, "it is to do what we can within our sphere of responsibility."

But corporate sponsors are the IOC -- they pay for 70 percent of its budget -- and the IOC has been unpardonably weak in its dealings with Beijing. The bottom line is that the IOC appears willing to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses in order to gain entry to a market that represents a fifth of the world's population.

"Throughout history, there have been other Olympics that were contentious," Latour said. Such as? "Well, Germany," she says.

Berlin in 1936? This is the company we want to be in?

With publicity like that, heads will roll at NBCU. Or, most likely, NBC itself will roll.

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